Courageous Conversations: Author, Priest leads Anti-Racism Chapel for MLK Observance.
Changing the status quo can be an uncomfortable task – especially if you benefit from it. That was the message to students from the Rev. Peter Jarrett-Schell, the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker and the white author of Seeing My Skin, a personal examination of the role of whiteness in his own life.
“As long as we’re content being comfortable, we will be supporting the status quo,” Jarrett-Schell told students during his chapel talk on Tuesday. “It is only by encountering deep discomfort that we can shift the way things work.”
Asking uncomfortable questions about issues of race and white privilege is one of the central themes of Seeing My Skin. In it, Jarrett-Schell offers important perspectives from his marriage to a black woman and his tenure as the first white rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, an historic black congregation in Washington, D.C. During his speech and in classroom visits this week, Jarrett-Schell challenged students and faculty – the majority of whom are white – to ask themselves tough questions about how they benefit from white privilege, and what responsibility they bear in creating a more equitable society for people of color.
Those are the kind of difficult questions the Holderness community might be asking itself, says Rev. Joshua Hill, the school’s chaplain. Hill says he came to this conclusion last year during a school visit by Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., director of the White Privilege Conference and founder of the Privilege Institute. During that visit, Hill asked Moore - who is black and runs workshops on leadership, diversity, and privilege – what seemed like a simple question: “Who are the black voices we should be paying close attention to?” Moore’s answer – essentially that white people need to discuss white privilege among themselves more than they need to talk to black people about it – was a wakeup call to Hill.
“His point was that majority white communities might actually make more progress toward reconciliation by talking about whiteness than they can make by asking a person of color to come talk about their experience,” Hill said. After reading Seeing My Skin, Hill knew he needed to invite Jarrett-Schell to Holderness. “Peter's book is a powerful example of this type of reflective work.”
During his chapel talk, Jarrett-Schell spoke about how important it is for members of a majority-white community like Holderness to ask tough questions about their own white identity, and how they benefit from white privilege. Echoing the school’s motto, “For God and Humankind,” Jarrett-Schell asked students if they were willing to endure long-term discomfort to create a more just world for people of all races and ethnicities. “We’re all human beings made in the image of God with God’s spirit within us,” Jarrett-Schell said. “That is who we are. If we build our identity on anything other than that, we are dooming ourselves to failure.”
While the upcoming school year’s cohort of new students won’t arrive at Holderness School until later this summer, they’re already connecting with current students and faculty through the school’s revamped Big Sibling Program - and the newly-created Summer Advisor Program.